Music News & Reviews

Joe McPhee returns to the Outside the Spotlight series

Joe McPhee has been a frequent performer in the Outside the Spotlight series.
Joe McPhee has been a frequent performer in the Outside the Spotlight series.

Joe McPhee Survival Unit III

7 p.m. Sept. 18 at University of Kentucky Student Center Worsham Theatre. Free.

The music begins with hushed, whispery tones that sound as if they could have been produced by the lowest registers of a saxophone or by brushes on a drum. Either way, what results is a sound that mimics waves lapping gently at low tide.

In the distance, a saxophone sound, high and urgent, emerges. There is suddenly unrest on the shore. Cello and trumpet square off in a sort of modern classical ballet. Under it all, drums squirm and shift before two trio adventures ensue. The first is a trumpet-cello-drums summit that rolls about with broken shards of swing. This prefaces a more boisterous tenor sax-cello-drums trio that sets this entire suite aflame with John Coltrane-like intensity.

Such is the journey that tenor saxophonist/pocket trumpeter Joe McPhee, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer/percussionist Michael Zerang engage in during the 28-minute Variations on Harriett. The piece kicks off the 2006 album Don't Postpone Joy!, pulled from a live performance given the previous November in France, that has the trio billed as the Joe McPhee Survival Unit III.

On Sunday night, the three return to Lexington for an Outside the Spotlight performance at the UK Student Center Theatre. All three have been regular performers at OTS shows over the years, but this will mark their first joint meeting in Lexington. Lovers of serious jazz, and adventurous listeners with eager and open ears should consider this performance a must-see.

Phil Vassar

9 p.m. Sept. 16 at Buster's Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St. $25. (859) 368-8871.

It takes a lot to upstage country music piano man Phil Vassar in concert. But that pretty much happened last month at the Kentucky State Fair, all with the singer's blessing.

During a pause in Vassar's 2006 hit Last Day of My Life, bassist Steve Cook proposed to his girlfriend, with a Papa John's Cardinal Stadium crowd cheering him on. Vassar even had the whole event captured on a pair of videos that are available for viewing on his Web site.

Expect only slightly less fanfare when he performs Friday night at Buster's. A veteran of numerous Lexington performances, including a dead-of-winter 2008 duo concert at the Lexington Opera House with guitarist Jeff Smith, the Virginia-born Vassar remains something of a novelty in country music circles. He is a singer who employs piano as his performance weapon of choice.

Expect Vassar to cover all manner of hits at Friday's show — from 2000's Just Another Day in Paradise to his new single, Let's Get Together.

Black Moth Super Rainbow

9 p.m. Sept. 17 at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Ave. $15. (859) 309-9499.

How interesting. When the Pittsburgh indie collective known as Black Moth Silver Rainbow last played in Lexington for a May 2009 performance at The Red Mile's Round Barn, its newest album was a wondrous mash-up of "analog" and contemporary psychedelia called Dandelion Gum.

Oh sure, the Red Mile show came only a week before the release of the follow-up recording, Eating Us. But to be exact, Dandelion Gum was the newest available local taste of the Rainbow that fans had at the time.

So two years later, what is the next new entry in the BMSR catalog? Try Dandelion Gum all over again. A new "deluxe edition" was issued this summer that tacks on 14 "extra flavor" songs. The bonus material includes assorted demos and obscurities that help augment a psychedelic sound reflective of bands as varied as The Beatles and King Crimson.

On Saturday, the deliciously moody pop of BMSR — whose members go by such distinctive aliases as Tobacco, Ryan Graveface and The Seven Fields of Aphelion — takes the stage at Cosmic Charlie's.

Rice Unit

Guitarist Tony Rice has been a favorite bluegrass fixture around Lexington since J.D. Crowe's fabled mid-'70s lineup of his band New South held its legendary residency at Holiday Inn North on Newtown Pike with a band that included Jerry Douglas and Ricky Skaggs. Since then, the guitarist has been a ceaselessly pioneering voice in traditional and especially progressive bluegrass.

A late-'70s tutelage with mandolinist David Grisman led to the first lineup of his own Tony Rice Unit and such landmark acoustic albums as Acoustics (1978) and especially Manzanita (1979), which developed jazz sensibilities within folk and bluegrass instrumentation.

Rice has made his way back to Central Kentucky many times over the years, although his most recent performances have been alongside fellow folk renegade Peter Rowan. On Thursday, the guitarist brings the latest version of the predominantly instrumental Tony Rice Unit to town for a headlining concert at The Kentucky Theatre.

The lineup includes two veterans, co-guitarist Wyatt Rice, his brother, and fiddler Rickie Simpkins, a holdover from his band with Rowan; bassist Bryn Davies; and a comparative newcomer, at least to Rice's band, Benton-raised mandolinist Josh Williams. (7:30 p.m. $29.50. (859) 231-7924.